Attractive groundcover can repel deer, too!

Groundcover: Can it really be practical as well as attractive? In a previous column, I discussed the pros and cons of adding groundcover around your trees. In fact, I asked you to imagine yourself as a tree and think how you'd feel about groundcover invading your space!

But I believe that judicious planting of groundcover has many advantages for you, and even for your trees in some cases.

Areas with groundcover don't need mowing and provide a welcome contrast from a wide expanse of lawn. Additionally, groundcover can grow in shady areas where grass can hardly survive.

But there are certain advantages to groundcover that even your trees would appreciate, particularly if your trees serve as unintended deer fodder.

I was reading some articles by David Beaulieu at and I was reminded that certain perennial groundcovers that we humans find to be attractive are actually offensive to deer.

It is logical to say that if you plant groundcover that deer actively dislike, then they are less likely to see your landscape as an all-they-can-eat salad bar. Deer will by-pass your property in search of more succulent treats. This means there will be fewer deer hanging around to chomp on your other flora – something for which your trees would no doubt thank you if they could.

Of course, there isn't much that grows that could really be described as "deer proof" because when they are really hungry and their favorite food is scarce, deer will eat almost anything. But you can put the odds in your favor by planting ground cover around your trees that deer will most likely shy away from.

David's article reminded me that there are two pachysandras to consider when deciding on groundcovers for deer control: Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) and its American counterpart, Allegheny spurge. Pachysandra is that rare plant that actually looks better in the shade: shielded from direct sunlight, the leaves retain that dark green, glossy look that becomes much paler when exposed to direct sunlight.

If pachysandra doesn't do it for you, I have a couple of other suggestions that I very much like as ground cover and have the added advantage of appealing to deer about as much as liver and brussel sprouts appeal to your nine-year-old.

Trailing Periwinkle (Vinca minor). This is an excellent ground cover that works well in both shaded and semi-shaded areas. I like the dark green oval shaped foliage and the conspicuous blue flowers in early spring.

Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans). This is a creeping, mat-forming, evergreen perennial that does well in shady areas such as under trees. This variety has cream and maroon variegated leaves, and makes an extremely interesting contrast in any garden.

So there you have it. Three very pleasant groundcovers that will work well around your trees and deter the presence of deer.